Hitchcock, Michael. 2017. Preface. In: Sylvine Pickel-Chevalier, ed. Tourism in Bali: can it be a Solution for Sustainable Development? Cambridge: Cambridge Scholar Publishing, pp. 1-2. ISBN 978-1-4438-5192-3 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Some of the most thoughtful and original researchers to have considered the cultural ramifications of tourism on the Indonesian island of Bali have contributed to this edited volume. So what we have is a distillation of many decades of complex arguments concerning the relationship between tourism and ‘traditional’ culture on this very special island. The volume takes as its starting point the 1995 Charter for Sustainable Tourism, which was drafted in the Canary Islands. Interestingly, in both sets of islands (and it should not be overlooked that Bali is a cluster of islands) artists have played a prominent role in the sustainable tourism debate. In the case of the Canaries it was César Manrique who played a leading role in the creation of a Lanzarote brand that was designed to conserve what were seen as the island’s finite environmental and cultural resources. The debate seems to have occurred earlier in Bali with the Russian-German artist, Walter Spies, among others, expressing concern in the 1930s over the potential impact of the growing numbers of tourists on the traditional arts of Bali.

After a decline during World War II, tourism returned on an increasingly larger scale following the opening of the Bali Beach Hotel in 1966 and the expansion of Ngurah Rai Airport in 1969. As this volume points out, the focus on culture in Bali’s tourism development led to the Balinese becoming more self-conscious about their culture and what it meant to be Balinese. But the development of tourism did not initially live up to the expectations of foreign and local experts, and arrivals fell below targets until an upsurge in the late 1980s, after which tourism became the leading economic sector, surpassing agriculture. The wealth brought about by tourism also contributed to the rise of Bali’s middle classes, though by the 1990s there was growing disquiet about the growth of mega-projects, often with investment from Jakarta. Even the onset of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 and the collapse of Suharto’s New Order regime the following year did not seriously impinge on tourism in Bali as the industry benefited from the severe decline of the Indonesian Rupiah. However, the relative good fortune of Bali at a time when Indonesia as a whole was enduring a severe economic downturn was not necessarily a blessing, and it was in this already tense situation that bombs exploded on the island killing over two hundred people, many of them Indonesians. Tourists abandoned the island in droves and a severe economic depression ensued, illustrating the deep link between the island’s prosperity and its dependence on this particular industry.

Bali is by no means unique in the way that it relies so heavily on one industrial or commercial sector and it is worth pointing out that the Canary Islands, where the charter on sustainable tourism was issued, remain heavily dependent on tourism. It is also worth pointing out that mixed economies like London and Paris are equally reliant on tourism, as well as many other destinations worldwide. Therefore the question posed by this volume is whether tourism in Bali could be a solution for sustainable development and has ramifications that go well beyond the confines of this cluster of Indonesian islands. Thus this collection comprises a very welcome addition to the body of literature critically evaluating the value of tourism and its relationship to ‘traditional’ cultures. What is also interesting is the fact that Bali is the site of considerable change in the character of tourism arrivals, with many Asian countries becoming the source of inbound visitors who do not necessarily share the tastes of Westerners who were once so dominant. For example, Chinese visitors are not as interested in sunbathing as their Western counterparts and it is worth bearing in mind that this unusual fashion, which is widely associated with Coco Channel, is a relatively recent phenomenon even in the West and may not stand the test of time. Indonesian visitors also exert an influence on what actually happens within the context of tourism, with some young men not disguising the fact that watching scantily-clad foreign women is part of the attraction of the beach. As this volume illustrates, the different perspectives and activities associated with tourists from various parts of the world have led to a kind of territorialization by nation and geography of major beach resorts in southern Bali.

This volume contains a very careful scrutiny of the relationship between the various economic sectors, notably a relatively traditional form of agriculture and a somewhat hegemonic tourism industry. Here, it is worth pointing out that Bali’s experience is by no means unique as various countries, notably Switzerland, have in policy terms had to deal with the visual appearance of the country and the expectations of tourists and have ended up subsidizing farmers

to act as custodians of land, an experience that has not invariably been successful. In fact, one of the reasons that the downturn following the bombings of 2002 proved to be so devastating was that the Balinese working in the tourism sector could not just turn their hands to agriculture as some opinion leaders prophesized as they simply lacked the necessary skills. It would appear that economic factors as opposed to cultural ones are having a marked influence on Balinese society due to the number of agricultural associations, known as Subak, declining as the amount of agricultural land shrinks, having given way to tourism usage. Jobs in tourism are also often much more attractive than those in agriculture, and thus a move away from the land is an ongoing concern.

One of the delights of this volume is how it captures the way these debates are illustrated in cartoons and photographs. For example, a rice terrace in the Bud area is festooned with the words “not for sale” which are clearly visible from a vantage point favored by tourists. There is also a terrific cartoon of an ogre-like investor munching on a snack in the shape of Bali. Readers with a penchant for statistics and comparative details will also not be disappointed as there are many charts, diagrams and maps illustrating how tourism is distributed throughout the island’s economy. In fact, this is probably one of the best illustrated books on the role of tourism in an island economy, and thus it makes not only a great research tool, but a fantastic teaching aid. Each chapter comes with its own bibliography and thus acts as a kind of standalone case study while making a contribution to the overall thrust of the book. And it is that overarching view that Sylvine Pickel-Chevalier takes in a beautifully written last chapter that will undoubtedly stand the test of time.

Item Type:

Book Section


Geography, Anthropology, Recreation, Tourism, Sustainable Development, Bali

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute for Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship (ICCE)


1 September 2017Published

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Date Deposited:

13 Jul 2017 14:29

Last Modified:

07 Mar 2018 15:14


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